More than once, Scripture states that God does not regret divine decisions. According to Numbers, “God is not a man that he should lie, nor a son of humanity, that he should regret (נחם; nacham)” (23:19). Other translations say that God does not “repent” or that the Lord cannot “change his mind.” Yet, this seems to contradict other instances of God regretting prior actions. Before the flood, “the Lord regretted (נחם; nacham) that he had made humanity” (Genesis 6:6), and God decides to start anew. So, does God “regret” or not? The apparent dilemma dissolves when we read the contexts of the verses that describe divine decision-making. When the text states that God renounces regret, this word pertains to the matter at hand. In other words, God’s refusal to reconsider is not an unchanging divine attribute, but rather a particular pledge for a specific setting.

In the example from Numbers above, Balaam—a non-Israelite seer—speaks to the Moabite king, Balak. Hoping that Balaam has cursed Israel, Balak asks him, “What has the Lord spoken (דבר; diber)?” (Num 23:17). Balaam, whose curse God has turned into a blessing, responds, “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of humanity that he should regret (נחם; nacham). Has he stated but will not do, or spoken (דבר; diber) but will not affirm? Behold, I received a command to bless; [God] has blessed, and I cannot reverse it” (23:19-20). Balak wants to know what God has spoken in this particular instance, and Balaam tells him that the Lord has spoken an irreversible blessing. If we recite Numbers 23:19 out of context, then it can sound like a universal declaration about God’s consistent inability to change direction in deed or thought; however, in its proper context, the verse speaks of God not regretting the decision to bless Israel.

Contextual reading also alleviates unnecessary tension elsewhere. In First Samuel, God says, “I regret (נחם; nacham) that I have made Saul king” (1 Sam 15:11); and then, in the very same chapter, we read that God “is not a human being, that he should regret” (15:29). Here, again, God’s denial of regret pertains to the immediately preceding word to Saul, namely that “the Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day” (15:28). On this day, the Lord will not retract the decree. While the Lord regrets making Saul king, God will not regret removing him from the throne.

Certainly, God is capable of regret (indeed, God is capable of anything)—to deny this would be to deny the words before the flood: “I regret (נחם) that I have made [humanity]” (Gen 6:7). When Scripture says that God does not “regret” (Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29), it refers to the decisions to bless Israel and to install David’s kingdom. God’s lack of regret in these instances shows that the Lord does not retract divine grants and blessings, “for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29).

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47 COMMENTS

  1. Hallelujah
    I have actually spent time reading about Noah and the floods
    What a Mighty God we serve.
    To Him all glory and adoration be given Amen

  2. anthropomorphism? In other since Yahweh is omniscience, He has to be able to relate to us (in order to be a personal, caring, but still all knowing-meaning, Yahweh knew ‘A’ would happen at given time & place & how we would react to ‘A’-deity, He has to put on His anthropomorphic costume. Therefore, He doesn’t ‘appear’ to be apathetic. Maybe the title of your article should be ‘Is Yahweh faking it?’

    • There’s no evidence in Scripture that God wears an “anthropomorphic costume.” It’s imprudent to import extra-biblical assumptions into the text and then manipulate the text based on these assumptions. The biblical authors wrote about God having regret; the modern reader does not get to tell the ancient authors what God is “really” like, nor does the data go away when it’s called “anthropomorphism.” To claim that God is not really experiencing regret (or “faking it”) is to sacrifice Scripture on the altar of presupposition.

  3. We err when we try to give to God human characteristics. Humans often begin an action only later to feel disappointment, or regret, when the results are seen. Since God knows the results before the action He is never disappointed for he never expects more than delivered.

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

      • Your article concerning Jesus’ humanity is irrelevant to the discussion at hand. You are claiming God has unrealistic expectations. If so, then God can not promise that “all things work together for good” because He doesn’t know nor is in control. We become the masters of our own fate.

        • God’s expectations are not “unrealistic,” but humans, often, do not meet them. “All things working together for good” is not a zero-sum game; God works with humanity to achieve divine goals. Humanity can act contrary to God’s expectations (e.g., Jer 7:31; Zech 1:15), and then God reacts to human transgression. The interpretive decision is not between either “God is an all-controlling puppet master” or “humans are masters of their own fate.” There is a large and dynamic space between these poles, and the Bible populates it.

          • Nicholas, You didn’t address Yahweh’s omniscience in regards to your article. If Yahweh is omniscience (and He is), then you have to take into consideration what Jim & I have postulated: anthropomorphism and/or Yahweh faking it (for lack of better words) in order to relate to us.

          • Bible readers should be uncomfortable “postulating” anything that the text does not explicate. This holds for “omniscience.” More, even if God were “omniscient” (a term that would benefit from further definition), “knowing everything” doesn’t obviate “showing genuine emotions.”

          • Now, in regards to Yeshua the Messiah weeping due to Lazarus’ death and His weeping for Yerushalayim due to the consequences of not believing Him, leading to the revolt/war of 66-70 CE, ending in the destruction of the temple & Israelite bloodshed, one has to believe that Yeshua was or is like Yahweh (omniscience), Since He is, then He either underwent a process of kenosis when He became human, and/or He was faking it, as well, in order to relate to us (I hate using the phrase ‘faking it’, but It’s the best way to express this).

          • In regards to Moshe, other biblical figures, and even modern people, & what they/we believe about Yahweh, it’s possible that Yahweh only partially revealed Himself to each human due to our inability to totally comprehend His whole character in our lifetime.

          • For example, did Yahweh tell Moshe that the Messiah would arrive in a certain city, time, His rejection & crucifixion, and even His return (date, time, location)? Did Yahweh tell Moshe that due to Satan’s rebellion, and Adameh (Adam) & Chava (Eve) sin, Yeshua had to come into the world in human form?

          • Yahweh’s character (not his total character but just bits and pieces. Remeber, we won’t totally grasp who He is until we see Him at the end of time due to the fact that we have so many questions that the Scriptures don’t address). He didn’t reveal everything to Moshe

  4. Context is so important. It seems that I spend half my life correcting sheep who have been taught that by memorizing and repeating certain “Cherry-Picked verses (devoid of context), they can manipulate God and force him to do their will…

    • Thanks for your comment, David. While learning single verses is fine as an intellectual exercise, you’re right that non-contextual verse memorization should not be the focus of the serious Bible reader. Instead, I encourage students of Scripture to learn the basic narrative of chapters, rather than the exact verbiage of verses.

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  5. In other word, God doesn’t regret when it comes to covenant, however, because God has given us a freedom to act and react, He may regret assigned an assignment to somebody. On other occasions, God has changed His mind about wiping out Israelites, while they went astray in the wilderness, however, when Moses stand for Israel and asked God not to that, God listened to Moses. What is your take on that? Thanks.

    • Well put, George. God doesn’t regret when it comes to covenant, but may regret other decisions (e.g., making humanity before the flood; Gen 6:6-7). The episode in Numbers 14 is another good example of God changing course. Moses intervenes on Israel’s behalf and God chooses to “pardon” Israel according to Moses’ word (14:20). This is one of many examples of God being influenced by human words and/or actions, which shows that God is genuinely interactive in relationship with humanity. Thanks for studying with us.

  6. There’s no evidence in Scripture that God wears an “anthropomorphic costume.” It is unwise to import extra-biblical assumptions (e.g., “omniscience,” “anthropomorphism”) into the text and then manipulate the text based on these assumptions. The biblical authors wrote about God having regret (along with many other emotions); the modern reader does not get to tell the ancient authors what God is “really” like, nor does the data go away when it’s called “anthropomorphism.” To claim that God is not really experiencing regret (or “faking it”) is to sacrifice Scripture on the altar of pietistic presupposition.

  7. When God says he regrets making humanity may this actually mean that he is expressing his hurt because of humanity’s sins?

    • Good question, Jay. It’s both. Before the flood, “The Lord regretted (nacham) that he made humanity on the earth, and he was grieved (yitatsev) to his heart” (Gen 6:6). God is grieved internally (i.e., emotionally hurt because of humanity’s violence and sin), and God regrets that act of human creation because of such grief.

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  8. Nicholas, Really? If you knew millions (or even billions) of years beforehand, how someone would response to certain circumstances, how can you express genuine emotions or feelings when you knew this would happen (and in certain situations, created the circumstances of the event)? Christian Apologetics is a branch of Theology that discusses Yahweh’s divine foreknowledge and human free will. It’s perfectly fine to have these discussions.

    • Foreknowledge doesn’t obviate emotion: one can know in advance that a loved one will die, and still feel genuine sadness after she passes away. Similarly, God can know outcomes in advance and still be emotional when they come to fruition.

      • Really? How can one express genuine emotions, especially if one caused and/or allowed the event to transpire, (and having the power to stop and/or change the event and its’ outcome), while knowing beforehand how one would react to it? You either have to fake it (anthropomorphic) or undergo kenosis. Well, I guess we can agree to disagree. Anyway, I appreciate you responding, but I do think you should allow your viewers to see the William Lane Craig’s video on Yahweh’s omniscience (Criag believes Yahweh is endowed with something higher than omniscience).

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  9. What makes me wonder is if God can see the future or exists in all times and all places then why would he regret anything? It leads me to believe that he regrets having to do the things that are necessary.

    • Good question, Adam. Perhaps we must allow the biblical text to dictate our understanding of God, rather than letting “if-then” statements dictate our conclusions about God.

    • Ira, are you asking why God does not inspire contemporary people add to the Bible? If so, it’s because the biblical canon has been set in Jewish and Christian traditions for around 2,000 years. To “add” to that canon now would make little theological or chronological sense.

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

  10. I see God as being very distressed that He made man. We know God gave mankind many chances to change their ways or to obey Him. He had to regretfully act against their disobedience with the punishment of the flood. Otherwise, He is not keeping His word.He could no longer be patient with them or trust them.Imagine His disappointment that only 8 obedient people could be saved & were worth saving ,with the hope of continuing His creation. 2nd Peter mentions that God is not slow to keeping His promise, he’s patient & doesn’t want anyone to perish.He wants everyone to come to repentance.That alone shows you His great love for all.

  11. Human regret is accompanied with change in way of thinking or behavior “I’m not doing that again!” Or, “I hope they learned their lesson.” Or, remorse, like “I blew it, I better do something different”. I wonder if God ever processed those thoughts as a way of counter acting the disappointment that accompanies regret. I guess you could say he did do something about his disappointment in making mankind by starting over as in the flood!

    • Good point, Roberta. Scripture does describe God processing divine thoughts in light of negative human action, just like God does at the flood (e.g., Jer 3:7, 19). Thanks for studying with us.

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

  12. Very convicting article. When I first saw that word for regret, I thought to myself, “where was the first time I was introduced to this word?” It was in YeshaYahu 40, I can’t remember which parshah it goes with, though. I wonder how are regret and comfort related? Reading chapter 39, I can see the point of your article’s momentum! Maybe this is why I feel conviction from the article. A positive conviction is to help us return to what is right/straight/yeshar. If we perform regrettable actions, and suffer the consequences, we tend not repeat the same regrettable actions.

  13. “God is not a man … to change His mind …” (Num 23:19). Man changes mind when he sees a better option to chose. But God changes His decision NOT HIS MIND when His standard/requirement is met/fulfilled/satisfied. (1) Eze 22:30 “I sought for a man … to stand in the gap …that I should not destroy it …”; Moses fulfilled this when He appealed to God not to destroy His people. (2) “God extends grace to the humble”; Ahab met this condition as he humbled himself GOD HAVE PROVISIONS TO HOLD/CHANGE HIS JUDGMENT. THUS, IT IS NOT A CHANGE OF MIND.

  14. change of mind & regret is the same Hebrew word “nacham.” Another meaning of “nacham” is being sorry/suffer grief. “the Lord regretted (נחם; nacham) that he had made humanity” (Genesis 6:6) Question: Could it be translated this way? “the Lord had grieved that He had made humans on the earth, and he was in deep sorrow.” (Gen 6:6) “I [God] grieved that I have made Saul king” (1 Sam 15:11) As for God’s emotion, the Bible clearly states His emotions. Furthermore, we are created in His image and likeness. Part of His likeness in us is our emotions. Thus, God has emotions THOUGH HE IS NOT emotional. God was grieved for the turn of events. This established that God is not a manipulator. By man’s free will/choice these things happened. As human, though we perceive/anticipate what’s going to happen, when it happens we still react – show emotions. I believe same thing with God – He has emotions.

    • Thanks for your question and comments, Roman. נחם means to “regret,” “change one’s mind,” or “be sorry about.” Had the text wanted to imply God’s “deep sorrow,” it would have used a word like יגון (yagon). You’re right that God certainly has emotions. Thank you for studying with us.

        • The meaning of שגיון is uncertain, though it seems to be a musical term. Similarly, הגיון can denote musicality, but it more often means “meditation,” and comes from the root הגה (to meditate or groan).

  15. Dr. Schaser, shalom.
    Thanks for the great bit of context, on a confusing issue! I’ve read the Balaam story several times, but never noticed the pearl you produced. Particularly useful to me, in that, I was stuck with the presumption noted in the article, that God is immune to regret, though the text specifically mentions just that process. My major takeaway, relates again to the Gen. 6- 10 inference. This is a deeply moving verse, in showing God’s remorse over a creation in rebellion. Over subjects who will not acknowledge Him, or His authority. So many things pop out from this moment. Should we wonder, if God allowed for free will on our part? Or did He hope for a better result than actuality? It’s impossible to know, but it begs deep questions. It staggers me to think, that it appears that we are returning to the same moment in History, with most of humanity unaware of its blindness, still, or it’s relative peril, in light of said regret.

    • Thanks for reading, David. You’re right that the text brings up further questions, which it doesn’t necessarily answer directly.

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